NBA Draft: DeMarcus Cousins, the boom or bust debate

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cousins_no1.jpgI clearly remember the first time I watched a Kentucky game this season. Like everyone else, I wanted to see what this John Wall kid was all about, so I timed a Saturday morning trip to the gym with a Kentucky game, got my spot on the stationary bike and watched.

Within just a few minutes I was asking, “Who is this DeMarcus Cousins?” The “other” Kentucky freshman was a beast inside — physically strong, quick feet, and he had a soft and deft touch around the rim. He looked like an NBA big thrown into a college pickup game, he was that much better than anybody else.

Scouts and general managers were already on to him for those same reasons. But they are also asking themselves: Will his million dollar body be done in by his five-cent head?

Questions of focus and work ethic popped up again at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this week when Cousins tested with 16 percent body fat (second highest level at the event). Some GM’s said he was just going through the motions at the combine, not taking it seriously.

All that puts general managers in a tough spot, as Frank Hughes reported for Sports Illustrated.

But despite Cousins’ attitude and reputation, he’s still a projected top-five pick. And his talents present an interesting quandary: If a team passes on him and he ends up being a great player, like Amar’e Stoudemire, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to identify his strength of character. After all, one talent evaluator said Cousins is the most productive minute-per-minute player in the draft after averaging 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 23.5 minutes a game for Kentucky. But if the GM picks him and he turns into a bust, like former Clippers No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to foresee the obvious red flags

By all reports Cousins came off well in the interviews in Chicago with team executives, and at 19 he deserves some leeway. I’m not proud of everything I did at 19, nobody is. But then there is this quote from his teammate Daniel Orton just this week.

“Unpredictable,” Orton said (of Cousins). “People don’t realize it, but he’s a loving kid — sometimes. I’ve seen it get out of hand, but he can control it. It’s kind of like watching a kid throw a temper tantrum.”

Some team in the top 5 will — and should — take the risk on Cousins. In the end, talent wins in the NBA and skilled, strong big men with a hunger to score like Cousins do not come around often. But I would go out and get a reliable veteran (preferably a big man) who has a good work ethic to pair with Cousins. Someone to show him what it takes to be an NBA player, someone to show him maturity and focus. Someone to be his Crash Davis.

With that, maybe the million-dollar body will come through. But there is a risk.

NBA: Kenneth Faried got away with foul on decisive basket in Nuggets’ win over Bulls

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The Bulls’ biggest loss Friday was Jimmy Butler to injury. His absence certainly contributed to a loss to the Timberwolves the following night.

But Chicago also lost to the Nuggets on Friday, and perhaps that wouldn’t have happened if the game were called correctly down the stretch.

With Denver up two points and 21.1 seconds remaining, Kenneth Faried offensively rebounded a free throw and scored. The Bulls then intentionally fouled down the stretch, and Faried and Danilo Gallinari added a few free throws in the Nuggets’ 115-110 win.

One problem: Faried should’ve been called for offensively fouling Taj Gibson on the key putback, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Faried (DEN) extends his arm into Gibson (CHI) and dislodges him, affecting his ability to retrieve the rebound.

This was a huge swing. Instead of Taj Gibson – a 69% career free-throw shooter – going to the line for two attempts with Chicago down two points, Faried put the Nuggets up four. Even if Gibson split at the line, the Bulls would have been in significantly better shape.

As usual, we can’t know what would’ve happened if this call were made correctly. But it significantly set back Chicago.

NBA considering if jump-on-back foul should be flagrant foul

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The video above is an intentional foul — Chris Paul jumped on the back of Dwight Howard. The same thing has happened to Andre Drummond.

Is it a flagrant foul?

The Boston Celtics tweeted this out on Sunday.

The NBA was quick to let people know that this is just something under consideration — there has been no change in the rules. This may well be where the league is headed, but it’s not there yet.

The NBA defines a flagrant foul as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” To me, leaping on a player’s back like that qualifies. (A flagrant two foul is “unnecessary and excessive contact” and leads to an ejection; this is not that.)

Jared Dudley — one of the more vocal players on union issues — added a good point.

Consider this part of the coming changes on the intentional fouling rules period. But this one tweak could come much faster.

NBA: Foul on Cavaliers that sparked Celtics’ comeback called in error

Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith makes a move on Boston Celtics' Evan Turner (11) during the third quarter of a NBA basketball game in Boston Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Cavaliers were in great shape against the Celtics on Friday, leading by four points with seven seconds left.

Then, it all went so wrong for Cleveland.

J.R. Smith was called for fouling Evan Turner on a made layup, cutting the margin to two points. Turner missed the free throw, but the ball went out of bounds off the Cavs. Then, Avery Bradley made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Boston the win.

Rewind, though, and an incorrect call drove the sequence, according to the NBA.

Smith shouldn’t have been called for fouling Turner, per the Last Two Minute Report:

Smith (CLE) makes incidental contact with Turner’s (BOS) body as he attempts the layup.

If this were officiated correctly, the Cavs would’ve had the ball and a two-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. That’s not a lock to win – they’d still have to inbound the ball and make their free throws – but it’s close.

Cleveland is definitely entitled to feel the refs wronged them out of a victory.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.